7.50 Ezra-Nehemiah -- Ezra Arrives
Finally, in chapter 7 of the book named for him, Ezra appears. He lived during the reign of Artaxerxes, 465-424. Ezra, "the Lord has helped," was a descendant of Aaron, thus a scribe and priest (Ezra 7:5). He was a scholar of the Law, who taught the Jews in Babylon, and had the authority to enforce it in Jerusalem (NIC, pp. 98-101). Ezra had the king's commission, and also his financial support, to implement appropriate worship of God in Jerusalem. Artaxerxes wrote:
"Whatever the God of heaven has prescribed, let it be done with diligence for the temple of the God of heaven. Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and of his sons?" (Ezra 7:23).
Whatever else one can say about them, these Persian kings weren't fools. They showed more zeal for the honor of a God they didn't serve than many of the kings of Israel and Judah. Of course, Artaxerxes was just as anxious for peace on his western borders as his predecessors were. Support of the Jewish Temple was a way to conciliate his subjects in Palestine. Yet Ezra had more than just a religious mandate: he was to appoint judges who knew the laws of God and of the king (Ezra 7:25-26).
In this commission, Ezra saw the hand and favor of God (Ezra 7:27-28). He led a large party of exiles back with him, bringing along gold and silver offerings, but refused any protection from the king’s soldiers on the journey (Ezra 8:22). Ezra's faith, therefore, was not merely book-learning, it was a living faith that governed his own conduct.
He arrived in Jerusalem in 458, nearly 60 years after the dedication of the Temple. Not much had been accomplished in these intervening decades: it had been a long period of uneasy co-existence with local people. No major rebuilding had occurred, and, in fact, some accommodation and compromise had crept into the standards of conduct upheld by the earlier returnees. Ezra set about to correct these lapses.